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Addiction doesn’t discriminate in any way shape or form; whether it’s biological or psychological its vise-like grip is relentless. Millions of people battle demons in anonymity and without social scrutiny. Athletes are held to a different standard and must fight their addiction in a public forum while dealing with the life’s pressures and the demands of their sport.
Josh Hamilton’s been in the public eye since he was named Baseball America’s High School Player of the Year in 1999. That same year he was drafted first overall by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays with the hope of turning around the fortunes of the franchise. His signing bonus of $3.96 million was a record.
From 1999-2002 Hamilton toiled in the Rays minor league system mostly at the Rookie and Single-A levels. In 2000, while playing for Single-A Charleston, he was named USA Today’s Minor League Player of the Year.
Knee surgery and a back injury due to a car accident cut his playing time and may have caused his addiction. In 2002, while playing for Bakersfield, he was placed on the DL following shoulder and elbow surgeries. He then began to use cocaine.
From 2002-2006 Hamilton failed three drug tests and violated MLB’s Joint Treatment and Prevention Program. He was in rehab and out of baseball for four years.
Hamilton was reinstated by MLB in 2006 after being sober for seven months. Following a 15-game stint at Hudson Valley, Hamilton was taken by the Chicago Cubs in the Rule 5 Draft and subsequently traded to Cincinnati. He never played a major league game for Tampa Bay.
In April of '07, Hamilton made his professional debut with Cincinnati, eight years after being drafted out of high school. In 90 games with the Reds, he hit 19 home runs with a slash of .292/.368/.554; he was then traded to the Texas Rangers.
In five years with Texas Hamilton teetered on the brink, displaying his baseball prowess, battling injuries and demons. He made Five All-Star teams, hit 28 homers in the first round of the 2008 Home Run Derby in Yankee Stadium, was named MLB MVP in 2010 as well as ALCS MVP that same year, and he appeared in the playoffs three times. He also played in two World Series.
Hamilton’s teammates were very aware of his problems and would forego the tradition of champagne and beer in the clubhouse during postgame celebrations in favor of ginger ale.
Nagging injuries and a tragedy plagued him in Texas. In 2011 Hamilton harmlessly tossed a ball in the stands, a fan fell 20 feet trying to make the catch, and he later died. Hamilton met with the family and has remained close to them to this day, though the impact of such a devastating event on a man prone to addiction is difficult to measure.
While with the Rangers he relapsed several times and was seen abusing alcohol in public in 2009 and 2012.
He signed a five-year contract with the Los Angeles Angels in 2012 that was worth $125 Million.
In the first year of the contract, he hit 21 home runs and batted .250/.307/.432 as the Angels failed to make the playoffs. In 2014 he appeared in 89 games with 10 home runs and 44 RBI’s, the Angels made the playoffs and faced the upstart Kansas City Royals.
The Royals swept the Angels in three games; Hamilton failed to get a hit in the series, going 0-13 with two strike outs, he was booed by hometown fans. The impact on his fragile psyche may have pushed him toward his comfort zone.
Early this year, news broke that Hamilton had relapsed yet again and used cocaine and alcohol. The Angels assumed he would face a lengthy suspension at the hands of MLB and they would be off the hook for millions of dollars on his contract. However, an arbitrator ruled that he did not violate the Joint Drug Prevention Treatment Program and no suspension would be issued.
The Angels have three options:
At 34 years-old he is on the decline of his career, but his talent is big enough to take a chance on, even with all the personal issues he must face. Hamilton must face his athletic decline and make choices on how he will lead a productive life outside the realm of public scrutiny.